For State CIOs, the Time Has Come to Be Agile


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“Waterfall has led us into a lot of wasted time and effort,” says Maryland’s state chief information officer, David Garcia.

ORLANDO, Fla. — After years of pressure to prevent costly missteps on big information technology projects, state chief information officers are increasingly experimenting with agile software development, CIOs said at a conference here Monday.

Agile is an incremental approach that contrasts with the traditional “waterfall” method, in which a project progresses sequentially all the way from initial conception to design, construction, testing, implementation and maintenance.

“We’re in the early phases of the transition” to agile, said David Garcia, who as Maryland’s secretary of information technology serves as the state’s CIO. He said state officials began drafting a policy last week saying waterfall was no longer an acceptable approach. “We’re going to a full commitment to agile methodology in the state,” Garcia said. “Clearly waterfall has led us into a lot of wasted time and effort.”

In Arizona’s government, all project managers and business analysts have received training in the agile methodology, said Morgan Reed, the state’s CIO. Arizona’s Department of Education has gone fully agile, he noted. The state’s legislature is fully behind the approach, with one budget committee chairman insisting on breaking up funding for big, long-term projects into multiple chunks.

As a result, Reed said, state officials are no longer telling lawmakers, “Trust us. We know what we’re doing. See you in three or four years.”

Garcia and Reed spoke at the annual meeting of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers, during a panel discussion on the results of a new survey of state CIOs conducted by NASCIO, Grant Thornton LLP and CompTIA, a trade association. While 34 percent of respondents to the survey in 2015 said agile methods were only used in limited, uncoordinated ways, the figure dropped to 19 percent this year. Almost 40 percent of respondents said the agile approach was in use on a pilot basis in their states in 2016, up from 32 percent the year before.

Another issue of concern to CIOs is modernizing procurement processes. “The perspective is brought to the table is that I was one of the vendors who would no longer do business with the state of Maryland because it was so difficult,” said Garcia, who ran an IT consulting firm in the state before becoming its CIO.

Reed said that when he joined Arizona’s government, “I had to adjust my expectations” regarding what was possible in the procurement realm. Officials, he added are working to issue enterprise contracts to better leverage the state’s buying power.

All state CIOs are under pressure to do more with less, said Garcia. “It’s about delivering value, and moving away from the perception of being an expense as opposed to an investment.”

“We’re spending this year focusing on what we do well and what we should divest ourselves of,” Reed said.

Tom Shoop is Editor in Chief at Government Executive.

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